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Series momentum still with England despite Proteas rally

| 07.01.2016

Rarely does a Test match draw carry so many momentum shifts and post-match connotations as the one England and South Africa just shook hands on at Newlands.

It was a game that swung wildly and often. England were in trouble at 223-5 in the first innings, only for the brutality of Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow’s 399-run partnership to put them in a commanding position.

But South Africa rallied. They regained their batting confidence thanks to their captain Hashim Amla’s 201, Temba Bavuma’s history-making maiden ton and contributions from the rest of the lineup.

Then England faltered, at 116-6 they gave the hosts a sniff of victory but, in the end, were thankful for their long batting card, which saw Bairstow and Moeen Ali bat through until the light was offered and the game was called.

After such a stirring performance, especially in the wake of a chastening tour of India and a first-Test loss to Alastair Cook’s side, you’d think Amla could enjoy his side’s work. Instead he relinquished the captaincy in his post-match press conference.

AB de Villiers will pick up the reigns in Johannesburg and beyond, but has his predecessor’s decision to bolt unwittingly whipped the side’s feet from under them?

Amla is a reluctant leader, he has walked away from captaincy stints at both domestic level and with the South African ODI team.

However, with his batting back to its immovable best his preference to shift responsibility onto someone else could derail the Proteas in this series.

Now, pressure is heaped heavily on De Villiers, a man who as recently as one match ago was keeping wicket and pleading for South Africa to lighten the load on him.

De Villiers is the single-most destructive threat to England in the remaining two Tests. He is the one batsman capable of playing the kind of innings Stokes did in the visitors’ first dig, with the captaincy on his shoulders, will that shackle his batting?

The injury-ravaged hosts will relish a week off between Tests, hoping to welcome Dale Steyn back into the bowling attack, and possibly Kyle Abbott too.

If Amla had retained the captaincy there would have been a strong case for a South African resurgence in the final two Tests, not because the bearded-batsman is a brilliant tactician, but for the simple sway of momentum.

As it is, South Africa have yet another period of adjustment ahead and England remain the justified 4/9 favourites for the series, with the hosts at 4/1.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Matt Wiggins

No idyllic sound comes close to leather on willow for Matt, whose previous experience includes stints with Spin Magazine and Surrey County Cricket Club. It's not just cricket that interests him though, with football, golf, tennis and any American sport not played on ice all high on his list of favourites.